‘Ask Aunt Susan’ impersonal like its counterpart the Internet – By Theresa Pham

March 16, 2012 in Cindy Bandle Young Critics by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

“Ask Aunt Susan”
Written by Seth Bockley
Directed by Joanie Schultz
at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn
November 10 – 20, 2011
part of New Stages Amplified

‘Ask Aunt Susan’, a new comedy at Goodman Theatre following the rise and fall of a self-help ask column, mimics the cycle of technology. The story starts out at a diner with the nice geeky writer, Aunt Susan (played by Andy Carey), and his beautiful girlfriend Betty. The story continues with Aunt Susan’s personal and professional struggles and betrayal. Aunt Susan has a jerk of a boss, Steve, and falls in love and has a relationship with Steve’s wife, Lydia.

The set design is stunning and jaw-dropping. The set has an intricate stack of gray metal chairs, a bed, a diner’s booth and various television screens scattered in between; each of which represent a part of Aunt Susan’s life.

The storyline is filled with humorous cultural references, but the characters are hard to completely connect with. At first, I rooted wholeheartedly for Aunt Susan (played by Andy Carey) but as the story progresses and the challenges increase, he does not handle himself well or think out his actions. Playwright Seth Bockley’s portrayal of human interaction as sexually driven and unemotional is brilliant yet confusing.

The entire play focuses on the advice column and how many of these women’s only outlet is through the column, yet often goes on random tangents that make sense in terms of the individual scene but does not connect to the play as a whole.

Betty (Brittany Burch), Aunt Susan’s girlfriend, is such an odd character. She represents the effect of the advice column on Aunt Susan’s personal life, but her character as a whole is just plain odd. She has a sweet cutesy voice and is absolutely adorable, but she meditates and does yoga? There are many unnecessary details that take away from the main focus of the story, including Betty. Even though Betty’s role takes a turn for the worse in the story, her character is crucial in the dramatic yet realistic ending.

For the most part, all the actors do a good job, but extra kudos go to Steve Pickering, who portrays Steve, Aunt Susan’s boss. His portrayal of an over-the-top character is perfect.

The production is truly enjoyable but tedious at times. The addition of bartender Chloe in some of the scenes and the dancing at the beginning is unnecessary and out of place. The director’s concept seems true to what the playwright intended but there is an off-balance in the overall production. The play abruptly ends and does not feel complete. There are many questions about Aunt Susan’s life that are left unanswered.

Although aspects of the play are completely baffling, when “Ask Aunt Susan” ends, you’ll find yourself wanting to contact a friend. Not on Facebook or Twitter; not by text, email or instant message. You’ll want to actually pick up a phone and call. The play is a powerful reminder of the importance of human contact and social interaction.